Meet the Team: Wendy Whiteford of Doon Valley Leisure Centre

Inspirational Wendy Whiteford has turned her life around after losing an incredible seven stones in under a year, gaining a new career with East Ayrshire Leisure into the bargain.

With a BMI which put her in the morbidly obese category, mum of two Wendy was extremely unhappy with the way she looked, hiding herself away by dressing in black.

“It was a vicious circle because I hated who I was, which made me eat more,” said Wendy, 34, of Dalmellington.

“After I had my youngest child my weight spiralled out of control. I decided I needed to change my lifestyle or I’d miss out on my kids’ lives. I have very few photos of me with them as babies, which are precious moments I’ll never get back.”

Taking the first steps

In March last year, feeling like enough was enough, Wendy made the decision to try a Boxercise class at Doon Valley Leisure Centre.

“It took me three attempts to make it through the front door. I just didn’t have the confidence, but when I finally made it into the games hall, Billy the instructor instantly made me feel comfortable.

“He had to modify everything initially so that I could join in, as I found even the simplest of tasks difficult because of my size.”

After a few weeks, Wendy felt confident enough to add motivational sessions at the centre’s gym into her routine, eventually reaching her initial weight-loss target of 50 pounds, before hitting her second target of 75 pounds just six months after beginning her exercise programme.

A few months into her fitness journey, Wendy’s dad became seriously ill with cancer and spent time in intensive care. It would have been easy in those circumstances for stress to take over and exercise to take the back seat, but instead she was able to remain focussed, describing her sessions spent working out as a ‘form of anti-depressant’.

Hitting the target

By January 2018, just nine months on from that very first Boxercise class, Wendy had hit her final weight-loss target of 100 pounds.

She said: “I never believed I could hit that final target, but I went from morbidly obese to a normal BMI within 9 months, losing weight the healthy way without pills, shakes or fad diets.

“It was then that my instructor Billy Kean joked that I should challenge myself to become a lifeguard. Although I hadn’t been swimming for years, I decided to work towards my lifeguard qualification and I’m now working part time at the centre.

“I now know that fitness is the career I want to pursue and I’m planning on taking my level 2 gym course in the near future.

“It’s hard in some cases for people to relate to a fitness instructor, but I feel it would be made slightly easier for them when they know that their instructor had been where they had and experienced the mental, physical and emotional rollercoaster that you go through while losing weight.

“Billy could see how determined I was and gave me a lot of his time both on and off shift, especially if I was feeling particularly low that day. The rest of the staff at Doon Valley Leisure Centre were also very supportive.”

As a way of thanking him for his efforts, Wendy nominated Billy for an East Ayrshire Leisure staff recognition award, which he went on to win.

‘It’s hard to beat someone who never gives up’

Billy said: “Right from the start I could see that Wendy had the drive and determination to lose weight, and I knew that because of her weight we would need to make adaptations to make each workout manageable and achievable.

“When she smashed her first goal you could see her belief that it was possible to achieve her future goals. We worked together through many injuries - in fact she broke a few bones in her hand on the Monday night and was straight in on the Tuesday morning asking for a new workout to do with her cast on. She never once lost the determination or motivation to succeed.

“Wendy regularly takes others under her wing to pass on workouts that I have shown to her. It was honestly a pleasure training and now working with Wendy. People like her is why I love the job I’m in, and seeing them fulfil their goals pushes me to be the best at what I do. It’s hard to beat someone who never gives up!”

‘New lifestyle makes me so much happier’

Wendy is now hoping to inspire others who may not be feeling confident enough to take up exercise, saying: “It’s hard to describe how I feel now. I’m not skinny, still well-built, but I am strong and fit and can give the men a run for their money.

“I’m much more active and it really has changed my life for the better. I’ve had to completely change my lifestyle, but it’s now one that makes me so much happier.

Wendy before and after:

“I couldn’t have done this without my partner, who has been a great support through it all. He never once complained about the time I was spending at the gym because he knew how much better it was making me feel.

“My partner and kids are also now leading healthier lifestyles and we’re so much happier as a family.

“And I can go shopping for clothes now and find something nice that fits me, which is lovely.”

Wendy has also recently undertaken a few charity runs to give back to the cancer charities that helped her family throughout her dad’s illness, including climbing the Merrick – the highest hill in south west Scotland – with her dad just a few weeks after finishing his chemotherapy, an experience she described as “a very special moment for many reasons.”

Feeling inspired by Wendy’s story?

East Ayrshire Leisure operates a number of sport and fitness facilities in Kilmarnock, Dalmellington, Galston, Auchinleck, Stewarton, Mauchline, offering activities such as group fitness classes, gyms, swimming, synthetic and grass football pitches and racquet sports.

A range of great value adult and youth membership packages is available. To find out more, visit eastayrshireleisure.com and click on the ‘sports’ tab, or pop into your nearest centre.

If you’re interested in finding out more about lifeguard training courses, call Tommy Harkness at Auchinleck Leisure Centre on 01290 426416.